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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Tarot Correspondence

Tarot Correspondence

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

In this thread I want us to discuss ideas about how Tarots work.
A controlling idea for me is “correspondence” This idea is given some conceptual shape in a recent article in the Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism (2006) in an article by Jean-Pierre Brach and Wouter J. Hanegraaff (pp.276-277):
Theoretical formulations of correspondences reflect several tenets which, until (and well into) the Renaissance, were among the mainstays of the dominant world picture(s) of Western culture.
(1) The first is the unicity of creation , which implies that a perfect ontological continuity connects all levels of the universe, throughout the overall hierarchy of being. This theme of the “great chain of being”, to which no precise historical origin may be assigned (it is present in Plato’s Ion but certainly antedates Greek civilization), is perhaps one of the most important metaphysical foundations of ancient cosmological systems.
(2) Second comes the doctrine of “participation “, of platonic origin, in which “love” constitutes the universal link or bond between the constituents of the universe, in a horizontal sense as well (Symposium , 186b-188d). Frequently understood as more or less equivalent to the stoic scheme of sympatheia /antipatheia , the cosmic pattern of attraction/repulsion which determines the relations and interactions of all things, properties and beings within the world, it may be construed as some kind of “immanent determinism” permeating the cosmos, and as one of two main driving forces at work behind its active dynamisms.
(3) The second driving force, as well as the third tenet, consists in seeing the universe as a living being , endowed with an animating soul, and whose parts are utterly complementary and interdependent, exactly like the limbs of a body. Again, the unicity and “wholeness” of its structure is frequently understood as an organic image of the human body.
(4) This leads us to the fourth tenet, the doctrine of universal analogy . Through analogy, which refers to a primarily “vertical ” perspective, all levels of existence within the hierarchy of being (or, for that matter, all things they comprehend) actually mirror each other, in the sense that the lower in ontological rank is considered as a “symbol” of the superior, essentially endowed with the same virtues, features and properties, the main difference between them being one of scale (or of “proportion “, the original meaning of the Greek analogia ). One of the most fundamental and widespread of these analogies is precisely that of the macrocosmos /microcosmos , which harks back to Plato’s Timaeus (although, in itself, it certainly dates from time immemorial and is also found in non-Western contexts, e.g. Taoism), envisaging the world as a “grand man” and man as a synthetic abridgement of the universe. In a restricted sense, correspondences may be interpreted as the “horizontal ” counterpart of the network of universal analogies; but according to a more encompassing understanding, they overreach from one natural realm or plane to another and, moreover, overlap quite frequently with analogies proper. Such ambiguities are rather common in this domain; one may think, for instance (and mutatis mutandis) of the equally ambivalent conception of the elements, often presented as both the foundations and the components of reality.
The network of correspondences appears as the outward expression of the hidden dynamics of sympatheia /antipatheia ; as a system of “signs ” canvassing the qualitative interactions of natural things and beings, and manifesting the manner of their distribution; as well as the practical means of their philosophical understanding, and of their magical or therapeutical use. Life and death, good and evil, illness and cure, and the general complementarity of natural qualities in bodies, result on the cosmological level from such a network, on the basis of which Plotinus described nature as “the great sorceress”.
Correspondences were considered to possess in themselves a dual aspect, external and internal . The external one was based on plain outward resemblance in shape or characteristics – for example between a plant and a human limb, or between a given animal and a natural body, both being considered to stand under the dominion of the same astral influence and therefore to manifest (each in its own way) similar properties. The inner aspect refers to some internal “essence” of things, which is supposed to be at the root of all corporeal features, either of one single natural item or of a number of them, to which it is common. The external features, being visible, “manifest” the inner principle, and lead on to an easier and better knowledge of it.
[Bold added to text] Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism Well I’m glad some people may be reading this note. How do these four distinctions relate to tarot practice and rationale? Here is a little commentary to bring it down to earth.
1. Unicity is a fancy term for the fact of being as consisting of one. It recognizes (in a way that our more common term unity leaves obscure) that the entire universe is one thing without a second. Here everything is anything. There is only here; there is no there. This is the suchness or thatness of Buddhism where everything is interconnected, interdependent not by cause, condition, change or exchange of energy or form but just by being. Here being is all time and timeless; where becoming is a condition within being and not a coming into being.
This level of unity is intuitively apperceived by mystics as pure-love, pure-awareness, all-life. It cannot be realized as such, because it is the precondition of all realization. It is where here immanence and transcendence are identical. The wheel of birth and rebirth, of suffering and its extinction, relaization of liberation are one. (Samsara is Nirvana). In Vedanta formula it is sat, being.
2. How does this relate to Tarot cards, symbols and reading? Simply because they are they interdepend and reflect this primordial unicity as do we all completely and equally. Plotinus is the classical source for these distinctions.
Participation is the way we become aware of our primordial unicity. It is the path within being to being. We are never separate from our true being only more or less aware of it. Being is alive
In tarot these are the many meanings of the cards, spreads, and symbols as keys to consciousness of the reader and inquirer, universal love, sympathy and antipathy. Flow. Synchronicity. In Vedanta formula it is chit, consciousness.
3. Second to this all things are alive and sentient, aware, responsive to a primordial attitude of gratitude and celebration, thinking is thanking, understanding presupposes humility before the great flow of Life. All is sacred and deserving of respect. Balance. Joy, bliss. In Vedanta formula it is ananda, bliss.
4. The doctrine of universal analogy works within us as an organizing principle of mind and perception, Where such insights as “As above, so below” work to make sense of our perceptions, stories, experiences, to link them as living symbols of this universe realizing its self in change to reveal the changesless unconditional love it is.
Much of the intuitive and counterintuitive insights provided by consulting tarot cards and spreads come from learning how to relate the appearance of a set of cards to elements of experience. It requires a development of the imagination as illumined by contemplative sensitivity, a celebration of satchitananda in all the flows of Maya, God’s play. So far all I have done is offer a summary of some basic platonic, hermetic or traditional ideas, which if you follow Robert Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination (http://thealchemicalegg. com) is the likely the general worldview behind the original design of the cards, major and (I would argue) pips and courts too.
However if one is suspicious of our superstitious ancestors who lacked the light of science and the tolerance of multiculturalism, one might like to know that cognitive science and neurobiology now offers some supports about how we make sense in readings we do.
I’ll try to post a summary with references for anyone interested in the next couple of days. 

Reference: Robert Place: The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination 


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